The following is an interview with members of the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM), conducted over the course of a month between July and August of 2017. We discuss their formation, vision and goals for the future, and what they are doing to spark a reawakening of revolutionary politics grounded in black liberation, anarchism, and direct action.
First, can you tell us how and why the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) came to fruition?
The political situation in the United States, and the world at large, is really dire and after many years of organizing, discussion, and reflection we came to the conclusion that we should lay out the foundational text for organizing that could lend some direction to the revolutionary movement in the country. If we look at the political and social problems in the US today, we can immediately see there is a gap between the activities of revolutionary organizations and the fortitude, seriousness, and capacity that must be developed to contend with the current situation.
There are huge sweeping political problems in the US, which could be resolved through reformist measures. The centralization of political power in two rather similar parties, the remarkable concentration of wealth into a few dozen people’s hands (making this one of the most unequal countries in the world), and military industrial complex, which ties it all together, are some of the more acute political problems. One could imagine how there could be a structural change to deal with these – permitting other political parties, redistributing wealth, or ending the bloated military industry.
However, the most consistent and unresolvable feature of American life has been the dehumanization and destruction of black life. The trans-atlantic slave trade was the process that shaped the modern world, and particularly the US. The slave system pushed the country to civil war, though not to abolish it, simply because it was financially untenable. Immediately after the civil war the US did everything it could to reinstitute slavery, which today has been transformed into the prison industrial complex. So, in essence, the conflict in the 19th century is the same conflict we are fighting for today. Black Lives Matter was just a recent iteration of a war that never ended. It is in this context that we find ourselves.
As organizers, we come from The Base in Brooklyn. Many of us have been organizing for several years, and have been a part of various revolutionary projects and milieus. However, there is a trajectory of protest movements in the US that has become all too familiar and not too effective. If we look at the anti-globalization period, or the Iraq War, Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, or Black Lives Matter, there are clear trends and outliers. In each of these there were horrendous indignities that had to be addressed. People took the streets, had beautiful moments, and demonstrated extremely courageous acts of resistance. But these periods did not create the requisite revolutionary movements necessary to overthrow the state and capital, or to gain the strength to destroy their primary manifestations.
Unfortunately, the cycle of protest has become routine and familiar; lessons aren’t passed down well to new militants, and older militants burn out without organizational coherence to keep the political ground firm. We felt we had to lay out a vision for the future and to begin the process of making a revolutionary organization that puts black liberation at the forefront. We intend to learn from the lessons of the past few decades and create a genuinely militant resistance that can eventually begin to garner the capacity to overthrow the state and capital.
Resistance movements throughout history include both underground and above-ground organizations. What do you view as the pros and cons of each? Despite the inherent risks, why are above-ground operations so important?
We believe that revolutionary political organizations must have both, and they must correspond. Black Liberation Army fighter, Russell Maroon Shoatz, argued that the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army had ceased to function accordingly, which he says was one of the main reasons the liberation movement was overwhelmed. The Party, according to Shoatz, didn’t have a strategy for war before they started organizing, so when the underground army came into existence, the above-ground organization was already engulfed in a conflict they were unprepared for. Due to the above-ground organization being routed, the underground could no longer get new recruits and then it was only a matter of time until it was eradicated.
So for a revolutionary political organization to maintain its relations with the public, to push a coherent political line about important matters, and to develop new militants, an above-ground strategy is paramount. However, people associated with above-ground apparatuses are unable to engage in militant action. They are the ones who make their faces and names public, and therefore must be careful about doing activities where they could be implicated and targeted with long jail sentences or assassination. This work is essential to bring new people into new ways of organizing, from setting up neighborhood councils, to political education, to defense.
In short, we need both to be effective. The militant work gives teeth to the political organizing, and allows the movement to make good on its intentions. The public spaces and infrastructure allow the militants to continue their offenses, paving the way for liberated organizations to take root.
Your political program is laid out in the pamphlet, “ Burn Down the American Plantation: Call for a Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement .” In talking about learning from militant struggles of the past, you mention” debilitating switch-backs between the two formations that Shoatz refers to as the ‘hydra’ and the ‘dragon’.” Can you talk about these two formations? Is there one formation that is more desirable than the other? If so, why?
Russell Maroon Shoatz illustrates the difference between the ‘dragon’ and ‘the hydra’ using examples from the Haitian Revolution. He describes the hydra as multi-headed, decentralized uprisings, and the dragon as an oppositional force with a hierarchical structure and leadership. The problems that arose from the dragon-style militias was that 1) a single leader could be corrupted or killed by the colonial power, thwarting its revolutionary potential, 2) once a leader took control of the country, the logical results of maintaining power: suppression of the governed populace, unequal distribution of resources, etc, led to the leader being deposed by the population. Shoatz concludes that the hydra-style organization is superior both militarily and in terms of revolutionary results; that is by organizing in a decentralized manner from the beginning, dispersal of power throughout the previously oppressed population ensures that self-governance will be built into the foundations of the revolution, and the result of the uprisings will be a society that has the integrity to defeat the colonial system.
In recent years we have seen a few mainstream instances of exposing how the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution kept chattel slavery alive by simply transferring it to the criminal punishment system, i.e. slavery is still legal under a code of criminality. While you point to this in your political program, you also seem to present a deeper analysis on the effects of whiteness and blackness, stating that “the first obstacle to addressing slavery in the US is the misconception that relates slavery with a specific labor code, rather than a system, a lineage, and a stratified code of bondage, dehumanization and captivity.” Can you talk about what you mean here?
Slavery, in the US, is typically thought of as a coercive labor arrangement where black people were forced to work for free. While this, clearly, is true, it hardly addresses the dynamic and all-encompassing role of slavery as a social system and the role of anti-blackness in shaping human relations and creating what, as theorist Frank Wilderson calls, the non-human/human relationship. The modern world, in many ways, was established through the colonial process, and particularly through the slave trade. Most of the terms we use to understand and discuss the world were established through this process like Europe, Africa, capitalism, state, white/black, etc. With the advent of capitalism and state formation, the left typically argues that the exploitation of labor is born here, but in reality, the relation of terror from the slave process is closer to the core of this world system. Furthermore, the establishment of who is permitted into the family of human and who is forced into the non-human category is solidified through these formulations. So blackness becomes tied into the reality of non-human, which is called social death.
The black position in America becomes entangled in an all-encompassing web of violence that is perpetuated by state violence, self-hatred, and more importantly the deputization of the entire society, and civil society at large, against black life. While the state has blatant forms of repression: the prison/slave system, police violence, etc, civil society is also a killing field, or a battleground where every interaction with white supremacist society and its junior partners becomes a potential avenue where black life can be exterminated or put onto the plantation.
With the 13th amendment and other legal codes we see the growth of the slave system; so when chattel slavery was abolished for economic reasons, the state wanted to ensure that white supremacist society not only remained intact, but that the human/non-human relation continued, culminating in the eventual growth of the prison industrial complex.
This explains why social movements, even revolutionary ones, are often so empty in regards to black liberation. These movements typically have a goal of reinforcing civil society, or strengthening society to make it more democratic, or promoting goals like workplace democracy, community control over resources or policing, etc. In the black experience, civil society itself is the battleground. So, in effect, these coalition politics with reformist groups inadvertently strengthens white supremacy in unexpected ways. We believe that a politics of abolition and revolution in the US must start with the acknowledgement that civil society itself is where this war must be fought. Our political project, while attempting to strengthen embattled communities and build revolutionary militants, also underwrites everything that we are doing explicitly with the intention of building up the requisite capacity to destroy the physical and mental apparatuses that create the human/non-human relationships.
On activist milieus, Wilderson states, “They remain coalitions operating within the logic of civil society and function less as revolutionary promises than as crowding out scenarios of Black antagonisms, simply feeding our frustration… From the coherence of civil society, the Black subject beckons with the incoherence of civil war.” We believe we need to position ourselves within this incoherence and create the capacity to destroy plantation society permanently.
Speaking of this relationship between revolution and reform, socialist movements in the US often seem to focus on one of two approaches: (1) reforming our current systems through outside pressure (voting, protesting), or (2) gaining inroads to our current systems (usually electorally) and revolutionizing them from within. By embracing direct action, anarchists do neither; but rather attempt to make these dominant systems irrelevant. Much of RAM’s vision seems to be rooted in this approach, drawing inspiration from the Maroon communities of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, and the current project in Rojava (northern Syria). Can you tell readers about the vision here? What would this type of community look like in the modern US?
What we’re hoping is that through this method of organizing from the ground-up, putting in place the communal structures of self-governance and defense, and building infrastructure outside of white supremacist, capitalist, and statist regimes, the colonial and imperial power that is the United States will, one day, no longer exist. To be able to create a different society, it is necessary to do so completely outside the legal and political parameters of this current one. For example, the judicial system cannot be reformed because its entire purpose — racial sublimation and modern slavery, punitive measures, and warehousing of the poor — is entirely contrary to the type of society we are working towards, and frankly it is an affront to humanity.
Even measures of soft power that masquerade as vehicles for social betterment, such as non-profits (which are usually funded by the democratic party) in fact operate as counter-insurgent tools. These organizations are meant to tie people into a charity relationship, and intentionally never give people the tools they need to be able to meet their own needs. The more people take control of their neighborhoods, the more people who join the movement and bring the skills they already have, the more concertedly we can build up the defenses necessary to defend these gains, the stronger the movement will grow.
Any time an organizer leaves to run for office, makes a career off writing about the movement, or feeds momentum back into capitalist, statist, or counter-revolutionary organizations, they are taking away from the skills, and communal resources, that people have committed to building towards free life. The first, and perhaps most important point, is to build up a visible political organization where people can develop the skills they need to build a different kind of society.
I have always believed that the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense had it all figured out. They effectively placed the struggle for black liberation within the broader class struggle against capitalism, set forth a specific political program rooted in theory and education, and carried out real self-defense measures against police and white supremacists, all while providing crucial social services to the community. Despite the obvious ideological differences (Anarchist vs. Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), has RAM’s political program drawn anything from the original BPP? If so, in which ways? And what improvements do you think can be made to their approach?
RAM owes a huge amount of its political vision to the Black Panthers, their fighters, and their coupling of education, defense, and community organization. The Black Liberation Army, and the Panthers, are undoubtedly the most important political force in recent US revolutionary history. Their focus on political education is something we find really important. In recent years, militants have accepted a more formal understanding of politics; but without a heightened political struggle, as exists in Greece for example, the lack of education has really disastrous effects for establishing any kind of continuity. We also appreciate how the Panthers had established a mentality of absolute struggle. In our current climate people focus on their political activities part time, and spend most of their time at work, or socializing which lends itself to careless thought and action.
The problems with the Panthers are well known, and a lot of their former members have written in great detail about them. The Panthers were an extremely hierarchical organization, which invariably leads to poisonous social relations amongst the members. The leadership was targeted by the government and a wedge was driven between them which made the organization weaker. Furthermore, huge amounts of party funds went to the leadership while lower level cadre struggled in prison. The Panthers had a lot of women in their organization but never fully grappled with feminism, like many revolutionary groups, until the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. Also, a split between the left and right in the organization developed, and some members wanted to further promote social programs, and go down an electoral route, while other members were immersed in the armed struggle and knew there could be no halt.
We believe collective decision making is paramount to revolutionary social relationships. We also believe that revolutionaries must have a complete and total rejection of electoral politics. As anarchists we argue that the state apparatus must be destroyed. But also pragmatically one must ask, what is the revolutionary’s position in slave society? If we intend to end the slave system and capitalism then seizing, or being elected into, the very machinery that permits and enforces this oppression seems deceptive and duplicitous.
Where does self-defense fit into RAM’s program? How is it carried out in real terms? Are there specific steps that need to be taken in this process of creating a viable self-defense apparatus?
Defense is an essential pillar and the first one we discuss in “Burn Down the American Plantation,” because any political initiative, from neighborhood councils to anarchist infrastructure to the simple proposition of anti-state politics, will not be able to succeed if the requisite level of defense isn’t able to protect its gains. On the one hand, defense is a social and communal process, tied deeply to revolutionary goals and organizations of self-governance. It is a fundamental paradigm shift for building a revolutionary society. One way to think about it is that the state pretends to take on the responsibility of defending its ‘citizens’ but in actuality fails in these duties, and is in actuality an apparatus for repression. The ability to defend oneself marks a departure from the role of victim in statist society. In fact, the ability to defend oneself and one’s community is the only way to escape the state’s carceral intentions. From Harriet Tubman to Assata Shakur, we see the continuation of movements as individuals become actualized and powerful when they are able to release themselves and others from bondage. Defense is essential for the development of individuals, and also for the revolutionary intentions as a whole. That being said, for defense to be successful, it’s not just about being able to fight or break people out of confinement, but essential for it to be organized around revolutionary principles and relationships. The stronger the bonds of trust are between participants, the stronger the defense will be.
There are already very successful Antifa groups, guns clubs, and fight trainings going on around the country. We’re hoping that by connecting these groups and projects together by underpinning them with specific revolutionary goals and strong political principles, we will be able to not only be legible to the broader public, but begin tying these groups to civic initiatives, and building towards a more impenetrable movement.
For our part, we’ve been doing a month-long education program called The Kuwasi Balagoon Liberation School that offers the foundational premise for RAM, study groups, pragmatic workshops, fight trainings, and skills like first aid, tech security, etc. As we expand the political body of RAM through this process, we are also working on building a defense team that strives for similar relationships and goals. The purpose of this defense team at this point is to literally be on call to defend our center from fascists, and to defend other political infrastructure we are building, such as safe houses or the Rapid Response Network. We are hoping that if we can establish good modes of operation, this team can eventually train neighborhood teams in self-defense and political organization.
The left in the US is fragmented by ideological differences, some of which are often very nuanced. The labels are endless: socialists, Marxists, anarchists, communists, democratic-socialists, Leninists, Maoists, Stalinists, MLMs, etc. RAM has chosen to orient itself in Abolitionism. Can you explain why this choice was made and how it can be beneficial to the broader movement?
We wanted to tie abolitionism to revolutionary goals, because to achieve the abolition of modern slavery, we have to completely restructure our society institutionally and psychologically. It is impossible to end prisons, structural oppression, institutionalized white supremacy without also abolishing the judicial system, police, and the state itself. Our proposal is not just a negation, but a proposal for how to construct relationships, and therefore social organization in a way that these things can no longer exist.
We also felt that there are so many dedicated individuals and groups, already doing important work, who may already agree with the revolutionary horizon we outlined in the text. If that is the case, then we hope that the long term intentions behind RAM will appeal to people from a broad range of backgrounds and projects and provide the foundation necessary for us to complement each other’s work.
In the US we are fighting an uphill battle against the degradation of life under capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy that the need for a concerted revolutionary strategy was clearly apparent. There are so many different battle fronts to fight on, and rightly so. Rather than tying tactics to specific political tendencies, and arguing that one is superior to another, we feel that to achieve a revolutionary outcome, all tactics must be deployed strategically in conjunction with one another. We hope that this initiative will provide the foundation to do so, so that people in groups from various political tendencies can support each other’s work. One way to look at it is that to begin to develop revolutionary relationships, that is ones built on trust, longevity, and commitment, there must be a way to overcome rivalries that develop through the struggle, and which, it could be argued, stem from the mentality of capitalism. The foundations of the society we are constructing must be built through the quality of our relationships.
What do you view as the benefits of an anarchist approach, as opposed to other leftist orientations?
Revolutionary anarchism is the foundational core of RAM, however, we also view the project as being largely non-sectarian and open to those who have similar political and social objectives. Anarchism is the only political theory that accurately addresses a wide array of oppressions. Furthermore, anarchism as a revolutionary practice offers a way out of the conundrum many 20th century revolutionary movements faced. The Leninist notion of attaining state power and wielding it ruthlessly has proven to be bankrupt, and today, the anarchist question is again at the forefront. The anarchist approach is the only ideological stance that demands the abolition of the nation-state, which we find tantamount to truly being a revolutionary movement. When we use the term abolition we are not only speaking of prisons, or courts, or singular institutions; we intend to abolish the prisons, patriarchy, the state, capitalism, and white supremacist society entirely.
As anarchists, we view revolution our central reference point, and all of our activity is centered on this vantage point. The revolution in Rojava also offers a current, ongoing example for anti-state struggle. With a history of armed struggle against the Turkish state, Kurdish guerrillas had created a culture of struggle unlike anywhere else in the world; coupling this with anarchist, feminist, and libertarian ideas they have made a living example for anarchists worldwide. The guerrillas also, wisely, waited for the best time to launch the struggle, and have made the only sustained revolution through the entire Arab Spring, expanding past the insurrectionary model of revolution.
The recent emergence of Bernie Sanders brought the term “socialism” back into mainstream discussions. Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have gained momentum as a result, and are currently strategizing on ways to affect change through our political system. You have mentioned that RAM does not view our current political system as a viable avenue for resistance or change. Can you elaborate on why this attempt to change the system from within is bound to fail?
The current political system must be destroyed in order for any of RAM’s pillars, from the neighborhood councils, to self-defense, to conflict resolution, to the co-operative economy to grow. Furthermore, the current political system, and civil society at large is already a state of emergency for black people in the US. We are living in a permanent state of conflict for huge swathes of people, and integration into that system is synonymous with defeat.
In regards to the dominant political system, it is primarily designed to give people the illusion of participation, to keep the poor away from the apparatuses of political determination, and to reinforce the state. The greater the level of participation in the political system the stronger the governing apparatuses become, which in effect bargain away people’s potential for liberation.
Socialist and grassroots candidates, unfortunately, end up redirecting popular energy back into the very system that is maintaining our oppression. Often revolutionary momentum, which could have been put towards an actual paradigm shift or the beginning of a prolonged revolutionary conflict, instead reinforce the status quo by giving the illusion of opposition to the police, the judicial system, capitalist barbarism, etc. The political system (with complicity from the left) then perfects methods of repression, and revolutionaries begin having a difficult time recognizing genuine action from counterinsurgent action. So for us to build for revolution we must be opposed to the system and not pretend we can use it for our benefit.
Anarchists often refer to a diversity of tactics that must be deployed in our collective struggle for liberation. Do you believe in this approach? If so, can you explain to the readers what these tactics look like and how they interrelate with one another?
A diversity of tactics certainly is necessary for, on the one hand building new modes for society, and on the other tearing down oppressive relations and institutions. It’s essential to get outside of the narrow framework that unfortunately liberal discourse has relegated this conversation to: it’s not a question of violence or non-violence as a tactic, which is funny because this question seems to often arise from a liberal fear of reprisals, or more horrifically, a liberal fear of the success of a truly liberating revolution. Instead, we urge people to look at this struggle from the perspective of an insurgency. By studying insurgencies from around the world, especially the more successful ones, it becomes clear that multiple tactics are employed. The key is having an agreement about what we’re working towards, and the principles that underline it. If that is the case, tactics are freed up from being associated with one political tendency or another and can be employed across multiple planes of struggle. You can see how useful it will be to have revolutionaries in place in workplace struggles, in the battlefield, in protests, in legal support, in blockades, in neighborhood organizing. If all these people are working in tandem, they can be mutually supportive by strategically coordinating to apply pressure at certain key moments to our enemy, while also building up the powerful relationships of trust necessary for this movement. The key is that all are committed to the revolution and uncompromising in this. The other positive side is that with a revolutionary horizon in sight, everybody, no matter what their level of engagement, can contribute to it.
There is a beautiful story about the Peace Mothers in Turkey, who found themselves on a hillside blockading Turkish tanks. It became a bit of a standoff, so to kill the time, they began dismantling landmines they found in the area. I love this story because in the US context ‘peace’ might infer that those mothers should not touch the landmines, like how liberals argue anarchists should not confront police or break windows. Similarly, mothers trapped in Cizre and Nusaybin during the Turkish siege brought tea to the youth brigades who were defending the neighborhoods with barricades and Kalashnikovs.
As long as there is the framework to build strong relationships, and everyone agrees on a revolutionary solution, every action becomes a militant action, and the impacts of individual initiatives is multiplied.
This brings me to one of your primary calls to action, where you state,” The resistance in the United States now has a choice. It must rise beyond the limits of the protest movements that we have become accustomed to and organize revolutionary bodies with the intention of combatting the State, assisting the populace, and expanding our forces both quantitatively and qualitatively.” Can you talk more about the limits of protest movements and the need to rise beyond them.
We have all participated in a variety of protest movements from the anti-globalization period to Black Lives Matter. It became clear, quite some time ago, that with the peaks and troughs of explosive momentum in the streets with its following repression, the movements didn’t seem to be making any material headway. The stark reality of this conclusion came in the context of the Ferguson and Baltimore riots. They were by far the most aggressive street uprisings, with the strongest levels of solidarity and mutual aid, the US has seen for years. Yet they were quelled by a combination of brute force and, as mentioned before, counterinsurgent tactics in the form of self-policing ‘community’ groups, non-profits, and liberal protest actors. Regular life under the white supremacist state came back to those communities and many young participants ended up with long jail sentences, or died under mysterious circumstances.
There is an illustrative example from the Middle East. While many countries erupted in mass protests as part of the Arab Spring, these protests did not have a unifying revolutionary vision, and in most cases resulted in more reactionary political groups coming to power. Meanwhile, the forces of the YPG and YPJ in Northern Syria were slowly and methodically preparing, like the Zapatistas in Mexico, with strong educational programs, clear revolutionary goals, and building up their numbers very concertedly to establish a capable and determined militant organization.
When Assad’s forces were weakened in Northern Syria due to the civil war, the YPG and YPJ were able to effectively take over the region and expel most of the remaining reactionary forces. They were prepared organizationally and politically, and chose only to act when they had the most advantageous circumstances. Immediately they were able to start implementing neighborhood communes, and co-operatives, because they already had a clear political intention to help restore people’s capacity to meet their own needs.
This is a good lesson for us and shows a liberatory counter-proposal to the problem of exclusively participating in street demonstrations.
Speaking of reactionary forces, you talk about the “rise to prominence of the far right around the world and in the United States.” In the US specifically, some ( myself included ) have characterized this rise as an inevitable conclusion to a national project with fascist tendencies deeply rooted in settler-colonialism, capitalism, and white supremacy. How do you see this trajectory playing out in the US? What are the immediate dangers of this rise and how can they be combatted by those of us on the left?
From Duterte in the Philippines to Golden Dawn in Greece, and Donald Trump at home, we see worldwide that fascist and far right parties and candidates have been coming to power. In many of these places previously, far right movements existed but were underground. But today, these organizations, inspired by international chaos and a changing world system, believe they can grow and offer an alternative world based on xenophobia, patriarchy, capitalism, and an extraordinarily powerful nation-state.
It is true that the state form is prefaced on its ability to oppress its population in order to govern. The US, like many states, was founded, and maintained, by denying the humanity of entire swathes of the population. The rise of fascism then is not an anomaly but a logical conclusion of the state form, the disorder of capitalist society, and the underlying foundation which is white supremacy.
When these far right leaders gain power, and exalt their xenophobic and fascist rhetoric, from Trump to Erdogan, their support base gets emboldened and takes action which necessitates a response. We have seen Kurdish people beaten to death in Turkey, a homeless black man stabbed to death in NYC by a white nationalist, the KKK marching and organizing nationwide, refugees being attacked in Europe, while government agencies now act with less fear of repercussions, like ICE and border patrol agents, and the police being encouraged to take extra legal measures by the executive branch.
Despite this barbaric climate, antifa groups have risen to the occasion and are fighting these groups back, preventing them from marching and organizing, shutting down their speaking engagements, and getting them fired from their jobs. Antifa groups have organized themselves and put their lives on the line, and even been severely injured and killed, while saving the lives of so many. This is very encouraging that so many are willing to risk so much to make their neighborhoods safe for the most vulnerable.
If we look at how to expand on this self-organized, militant activity, we can see an intersection between the underground railroad and self-defense units, while connecting all these activities and organizational structures through a political framework. If we are working towards revolutionary goals, anti-fascists, participants in the underground railroad, and neighborhood defense groups won’t simply be a stop-gap measure, but ones that are learning how, and gaining the resources, to go on the offensive when it is possible.
Keeping the focus on neighborhoods, one of the five points of RAM’s political vision is self-governance in the form of neighborhood councils. Can you describe what these councils look like in modern terms? How do we go about creating them?
There are so many different kinds of neighborhoods, from city to suburban to rural that how the councils work and what they deal with on a day-to-day basis must vary widely. It’s helpful that we have a lot of examples to draw from, from the rural ones in Chiapas to the more urban examples in Bakur (Southeastern Turkey). Its useful to examine these, and how they are implemented, to have some vision. However, how they pan out in different towns, cities, regions, and blocks is going to be very different.
The one thing that should be universal is the political principles. For example, if there is a neighborhood association committed to working with the police then they are not engaged in the same political project. Due to this reason, we suggest that one way we build towards neighborhood councils is through establishing an underground railroad network. These connections must be built on clear political principles, and outside of state institutions. We also suggest that we can build towards neighborhood councils through pragmatic projects, oriented towards those facing oppression. For example, a tenant’s solidarity network that is actively working against rent increases and built on horizontal solidarity can help renters in the short term and provide the experiences for working together as a commune. This is just one idea, and may or may not be relevant to every situation, however multiple projects can be attempted until groups find the right one. It’s also important to note that any solidarity or autonomy achieved through these preliminary organizations must be defended; so whatever that necessitates, should be built simultaneously.
Another point of RAM’s political vision is based in “conflict resolution and revolutionary justice.” Can you tell readers what these mean and give example(s) on how they would look in practice?
Conflict resolution is intended for comrades, and for oppressed peoples who come into contact with our organizations, while revolutionary justice is the actions used by the oppressed in order to extricate themselves from their chains.
The premise of conflict resolution is built into the roots of revolutionary organizations, and prefaced on the idea of resolving problems before they start. The perspective differs from our judicial system in that it is not punitive; instead it’s founded on the desire to restore the social fabric, and also to help each other develop as better people. This means that all the participants in conflict resolution are profoundly invested in each other.
There are multiple wonderful examples of how this can work: looking at the Zapatistas and their use of a mediator and agreement on restitution by every participant, or at civil society in Rojava with a group of neighbors based at the Mala Gel (people’s house), or the tekmil of the YPG/YPJ, where participants offer reflections after every training. However, developing this for our particular circumstances will probably not be a matter of copying methods from other groups, but engaging the foundational premises of conflict resolution, and then doing a lot of trial and error.
We also believe establishing healthier means of conflict resolution is paramount for revolutionary organizations in the US. Personal conflict and infighting have destroyed most groups, so finding a method of resolving problems is incredibly important.
Revolutionary justice is already happening, in the form of riots in Baltimore and Ferguson, in prison uprisings, revolts in detention centers. It is important to recognize when it is happening and figure out ways to support it, both in the long and short terms.
How does RAM feel about working with other organizations? Socialist parties? Resistance movements? Are there specific criteria you have in considering potential allies and/or partners? Is there a line that must be drawn when considering these alliances?
At the moment there is very little infrastructure outside the state and capitalist enterprises, and even less knowledge about anarchism, abolition, and liberatory history and proposals. The most important first step is to build a solid political foundation to organize from. This means finding other revolutionaries through education and invitation to join organizing projects. This necessarily has to be a slow process, but it’s important to do it right. The stronger, and more trusting, our relationships and organizations are, the more risks and assertive actions we can take. People should come to the movement and feel like they are removing the shackles of their previous life, are treated respectfully, and can develop new skills necessary for revolutionary change.
At the same time, it’s important to spread knowledge among the general public, by education and programs, so that we spread throughout society and build new infrastructure. When it comes time for actions, they should be legible to broad swathes of the population; people should know who is doing these actions and why they are doing them.
The most important thing to do right from the start is to build up a strong foundation for our political proposals. The question of working with other organizations is only relevant once we have established ourselves and built up material gains. As we expand, and make our political intentions more widespread, we hope people who are committed to liberatory solutions will join the call for a Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement. The main intention behind the project is for individuals and organizations to join the movement and expand if they agree with the political principles. So hopefully it will be a matter of working alongside new participants.
Finally, as we move forward in our collective fight, what do you see as the most immediate concerns that must be addressed? Where do you see RAM in another year? Where do you see RAM in five years?
The political situation in the US, and in effect, the larger world, is so unstable and dangerous that our activities and their success is essential. Ordinary life in the US, for the black population especially, has always been a state of crisis and war. The conflict from the Middle Passage to the Civil War to Black Lives Matter has been continuous, and the struggle against social death, against being treated and perceived as less than human, continues unbroken. The difference today is that the US state is collapsing internally, and its power has been thoroughly eroded internationally, making the country one of the most dangerous entities in world history.
Revolutionaries in the US, then, must be prepared to fight and throw our entire lives into the struggle no matter where we are. For huge swathes of the population, slavery, constant conflict, and death are the norms, and as the country spirals into the unknown, this misery will become more pronounced. It is our place to fight side by side with those facing oppression, and to create alternatives so people can live with dignity.
With this in mind, the most important first step is to build RAM organization all around the country. The intention behind this process is to create a strong political foundation for our resistance. This allows all of our activities to become legible to the broader public and it connects disparate projects through a greater political trajectory. In one sense the political foundation should also be a development of the social: it is an invitation for comrades with similar levels of seriousness, commitment, and humility to begin working together. By joining this movement, people should be able to develop new skills, better ways of relating to one another, and chart out a path towards revolutionary relationships.
While acknowledging white supremacy as the foundation of the US and the larger world-system, we believe destroying its appendages and helping people flee bondage are some immediate guidelines RAM groups should follow. As we build stronger revolutionary relationships, we should also assist people in staying free, culminating in the establishment of a new underground railroad and a vastly stronger revolutionary movement.
We also would encourage RAM groups to create educational projects and public projects to articulate what we are fighting for, what we are offering, and what it means to become a revolutionary. As we expand we can help communities liberate themselves, and we will begin creating the political infrastructure to challenge and eventually overthrow the capitalist state. So the immediate objectives are for chapters to form, create educational infrastructure, and begin engaging with those affected by the worst aspects of the state and white supremacist society (prisoners, ICE detainees, shelters, etc.), eventually developing a modern underground railroad. People should also begin developing militant means of defense to protect these projects.
To conclude, RAM is also revolutionary strategy that is intending for long term objectives. We don’t see this as daunting though; instead we view it as a relief. We don’t need to rush against an impenetrable enemy every time the cops do something obscene; we don’t need a pressure valve every time there is an indignity. Instead, we plan to build slowly and methodically so that we can gain the capacity to act decisively at a time and place of our choosing. We want to be as ready as possible to aid and assist those in revolt, provide infrastructure and resources, and also have new modes of operating in place, such as the councils or conflict resolution bodies, so that as the riot wanes, no one has to go back to a life of oppression, and we can push past revolt and into revolution.